Nice Ride Minnesota will be shifting its gears to “dockless” bikes starting this August after receiving Minneapolis City Council approval May 11 for a three-year pilot.
Instead of requiring riders to rent and return bikes at stations, dockless bike sharing allows riders to find a bike using an app and, when they’re finished, park it in any approved area near their destination. Nice Ride is partnering with Motivate for this expansion, which will be privately funded.
Nice Ride’s approach to dockless bike share will not be the park-nearly-anywhere model of dockless bike share that has been common in other cities. Instead, Nice Ride will create a network of “virtual stations” marked with a sign or paint where riders must return bikes. This approach is intended to reduce bikes being left in inappropriate locations, like blocking sidewalks.
Getting a robust network of virtual stations in place before August is one of the big tasks for Nice Ride now.
“We need a thousand virtual stations as soon as possible,” said Nice Ride Executive Director Bill Dossett.
Nice Ride currently has 200 docked stations. Both Nice Ride and the city have committed to ensuring that virtual stations serve nearly all of Minneapolis and that neighborhoods with lower income are well served.
Nice Ride will still maintain its docked system this year and will start transitioning that out as bicycles and stations need to be replaced. They will add 1,500 dockless bikes each year for the next four years. They currently have 1,850 bikes. They plan to include at least 150 electric-assist bicycles as part of the transition.
The new bikes will look different than their iconic green bikes, partly to make sure people do not try to park them at the docked stations. The new bikes are also expected to be lighter than the current bikes but similarly durable.
When the dockless bikes roll out in August, Nice Ride plans to offer $1 for 30 minute rides and $2 for bikes taken from docked stations. In the future, the rate will be capped at the price of a regular Metro Transit bus fare.
Nice Ride and Motivate are looking at alternative ways to check out a bike than a smartphone like being able to use a Metro Transit Go-To card.
One of the things that Nice Ride has stressed in their approach to this transition is continuing to prioritize quality and reliability over rapid growth. Other cities have seen very rapid influx of bikes — with both positives and challenges. Nice Ride’s approach certainly promises to increase bicycle access, which is a great thing, but attempts to avoid some of the challenges.
There are still sure to be hiccups along the way, but it is great to have a committed local partner in Nice Ride leading the way on this. It is a pilot, so Minneapolis will be able to re-evaluate in a few years as the bike share industry continues to evolve rapidly. I’m excited to see how it goes.
Other cities go dockless
As Minneapolis was approving Nice Ride’s approach to dockless bike share, St. Paul released a request for proposals for their own dockless bike-share system. This comes after St. Paul decided in January not to participate in the Nice Ride-led transition effort that included Minneapolis. St. Paul plans to select one or two vendors in June and hopes to launch as soon as July.
Nice Ride said at a public meeting in April that they plan to apply — presumably with Motivate — to work with St. Paul as well. That could mean a system where riders can take a dockless bike between the two cities. If another vendor is selected, there would be separate and disconnected systems in the two cities.
That will certainly be the case for Golden Valley, Edina and probably St. Louis Park. Golden Valley and Edina have approved pilot dockless bike-share programs with Lime Bike, and St. Louis Park is also in discussions with Lime. The Golden Valley and Edina programs should launch by June.
Lime Bike bikes, or bikes from any other unlicensed bike share provider, would not be allowed to be parked unattended in Minneapolis.
A regional approach to bike share would certainly be nice, but having different models will allow cities to see what works best in the short term. Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure out a regional model in the near future.
Tips for Bike to Work Day
May 18th is Twin Cities Bike to Work Day, with commuter pit stops along many routes and celebrations in downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis Park and Richfield.
People who regularly bike to work live longer, healthier lives, are the happiest commuters, save money and arrive to work ready to go. With summer construction driving headaches ahead, it’s a great time to try biking to work.
Here are five tips for trying bike commuting:
- Ask a friend or co-worker for help. Most bike commuters are happy to share their ideas and help you get started. A co-worker can also help you with routing, access to bike parking and showers in your office, and may even ride with you.
- Choose a nice day when you can take extra time. You don’t want to be in a rush or too hot or too cold on your first ride.
- Start simple and take it slow. You don’t need special gear or to make it a race.
- Connect with transit if it’s too far to bike the whole way. Each Metro Transit bus and train has bike racks. Or lock your bike at the transit stop.
- Google Maps has bike directions!
For more resources to help you in biking, check out TwinCitiesBiking.org, a new one-stop-shop for all the best information.